Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The New MAD ABOUT YOU

My late partner introduced me to a new NBC sitcom called MAD ABOUT YOU. This was a week or two after our first date in 1992. He loved the "opposites attract " aspect of the show. The lead characters, played by Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, were an inter-faith married couple. He was Jewish. She was not. They lived in New York City in the Village, five blocks from NYU (New York University). Richard and I were an "opposites attract" couple. He was a white Southern Baptist from a small town in Tennessee going with me, a Black Catholic guy who hails from South Central L.A. In the late 80s, Paul Reiser was a guest on my VH1 talk show. I was and still am a fan of his actor work. When I watched MAD ABOUT YOU, I fell immediately in love with Helen Hunt. In the TV marriage of Paul and Jamie Buchman, you could see exactly why he fell for and married her. Why he was mad about her. The show had a successful run, airing through 1999. Personally, I didn't like the final episodes that had the couple on the brink of divorce.
Just like another hit NBC sitcom from the 1990s, WILL & GRACE, MAD ABOUT YOU has been rebooted and you have to forget all about those last episodes in the original run. Paul and Jamie are now "empty nesters." Their daughter, Mabel, is leaving to start her freshman year at NYU. The school is just five blocks away but she's packed as though she's relocating to Nova Scotia. I had less luggage when I flew from Los Angeles to start my freshman year at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mom Jamie is not just hovering as Mabel prepares to leave -- Jamie's so attached, she's practically a skin graft. She follows Mabel to her college dorm room and will drop by unannounced before the episode ends. The premiere reboot episode is about being older and becoming an "empty nester." Writing-wise, it's a light episode but it floats on the chemistry of the two veteran stars. Their timing and charisma is still there. Reiser, like myself, is now burlier. Hunt is leaner and has the look of a seasoned champion athlete who's now coaching. In a way, she is. Helen Hunt directed this first episode. I hope she gets to direct more of them.
She didn't direct the second episode which is not quite as funny as the first. Writing-wise, it's also light and Jamie is forced to join a support group for empty nesters. There's a sub-plot of her wanting a puppy to fill the void of no-child in the home. By the way, for 20 years, I lived close to where Paul and Jamie live. I was on 21st Street at 7th Avenue in Chelsea. Their daughter's vacated bedroom is the size of the entire studio apartment I had.

Recognizable faces from the show's original NBC run appear in these two episodes. There's John Pankow as Ira Buchman, Anne Ramsay as Jamie's sister and Richard Kind as big Dr. Mark Devanow.
But Mark's no longer with Fran. They're history. He's now married to a formidable, middle-aged Black woman who's a therapist. She's the therapist who runs the empty nester's support group.

In its original run, I loved how Jamie embraced diversity. In one episode, she and her girlfriends are happily noting how hot Black pro tennis player Yannick Noah is. As the series went on, Richard and I noticed the lack of Black people in a show about characters who lived in New York City. In one episode, Carol Burnett guest starred as Jamie's mother. Mother and daughter went to see the hit Broadway musical BRING IN 'DA NOISE, BRING IN 'DA FUNK starring Savion Glover. I saw that show three times. Each time, the packed audience was extremely diverse racially. I was thrilled to see so many Black and Latino folks in a Broadway show audience. However, in that episode of MAD ABOUT YOU, when mom and daughter went to the lobby during the Broadway show's intermission, there were no Black people as background actors. This lack of color also applied to fellow NBC sitcoms at that time -- FRIENDS, WILL & GRACE and SEINFELD. The lack of color on shows in which we followed sophisticated characters living in NYC was so evident that, in one issue of Los Angeles Magazine, the question was posed "Does NBC stand for 'No Black Comics'?" As for SEINFELD, I was working at WNBC in the early 90s when one incendiary episode aired. A lead character is driving a car, makes a wrong turn into the Puerto Rican Day Parade and accidentally sets the flag of Puerto Rico on fire. The night that aired, the NBC switchboard just about caught on fire with the mass number of irate calls for Latinx viewers. I was angry about it too. My feeling was that, if setting the flag of Puerto Rico on fire accidentally was written as a gag, there was no one Latino on the writing staff or otherwise on the production team to say, "Can we talk about this before you shoot it? You're asking for trouble here." That episode was taken out of the rerun cycle for years.

We're now in a different age. Diversity and inclusion are key -- especially in shows that feature characters in big metropolitan cities. People of color are definitely in the first two episodes of the MAD ABOUT YOU reboot. Part of me wonders if that was the wonderful work of Helen Hunt who, like actress Frances McDormand, advocates the inclusion rider in production contracts. There's racial diversity in the cast and the first two episodes were directed by women. Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser are executive producers of the reboot. Here's a trailer.

I had some reboot script ideas. For Mark (played by Richard Kind), I would've had his detachment from Fran as a divorce when he came to a truth about his sexual orientation. I would've had him *come out* and now be with a middle-aged Black or Latino man. Now that Mark is out, we could see if Paul is still comfortable doing things they've done for years -- like hit the gym together, workout and catch a steam afterwards. As for Paul, we see him working on a TV commercial for catheters. I would have him now an Oscar nominee for one of his documentaries. He didn't win but he and Jamie were at the Oscars. And he's since made appearances on New York City's PBS station during pledge drives. He's become a bit of a local celebrity. Instead of a great restaurant review in the New York Times (Ira has an Italian restaurant), I would've had his chef get booked on CBS SATURDAY MORNING for one of the news program's popular weekly restaurant segments or get a great profile another national TV show. The on-air TV segments would be great for business in these modern times where more people are looking at screens instead of reading newspapers. While Paul and Jamie are in the restaurant one night after some TV exposure, Jamie could be spotted by one of her old boyfriends from right before she met Paul. Her old boyfriend is now a transgender female and looks fabulous. As for Paul and Jamie's serious marital discord at the end of the sitcom's run in 1999, I would have it that tragedy brought them together again. They both lost a very dear friend who worked in one of the World Trade towers on September 11th. Their shared grief was, in time, sort of a remarriage. They reconciled and reunited in their changed New York City.

Just a few ideas. During the original run, Helen Hunt won the Best Actress Oscar for 1997's AS GOOD AS IT GETS, written and directed by James L. Brooks. In the first episode, we're reminded of why she won that Oscar when she sits with Paul in Ira's restaurant and honestly says, "I'm so tired. My brain is tired..." She's older and she knows it. She reveals her complicated feelings. That's in the episode Hunt directed.  Helen Hunt has done some mighty fine work as a film director. I recommend her 2007 directorial debut with THEN SHE FOUND ME starring Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick and Bette Midler. Hunt got a good, subtle performance out of Midler. I also like Hunt's surfer romantic comedy/drama RIDE. That 2014 film has her as a single mom who learns to surf in order to heal her fractured relationship with her son.

The first two episodes of the non-NBC reboot are "The Kid Leaves" and "Restraining Orders and Puppies." I give the first one a C+ and give a C to the second.  They can be viewed for free until the end of January on Spectrum Originals, the new home for MAD ABOUT YOU. Just click onto the link below:

www.spectrumoriginals.com.




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